Vikas Pota is the European regional honoree for the 2022 YPO Global Impact Award. The award focuses on YPO members making impact outside the organization that is both sustainable and scalable, affecting people, prosperity, peace or our planet.
When the pandemic began to unfold in early 2020, schools around the world scrambled to adapt to keep the then-mysterious virus from spreading. Paused learning, remote learning, hybrid learning – these and other types of learning entered the world’s vernacular. Children not yet able to recite their language’s alphabet understood the meaning of ‘asynchronous.’ It was a challenging time for parents, children, school administrators and governing bodies, and no doubt, teachers.
Vikas Pota, a London-based businessman and YPO member who was previously Chief Executive of a philanthropic foundation that launched the Global Teacher Prize, watched teachers around the world struggling at the start of the pandemic and asked himself what he could do to help.
“I brought them together on a call expecting 30 or 40 to show up, but 230 came,” Pota says. “They were asking the exact same question – no matter where they were in the world: What does the new normal mean for us?’”
That call resulted in Pota establishing T4 Education, a digital media platform connecting teachers across the globe to learn and share best practices to improve education following the greatest crisis the industry has ever faced. The four areas Pota identified as needing attention from that initial call were collaboration, leadership, technology and well-being. Hence, the name T4, with ‘T’ standing for teachers.
The best investment that we can make in the educational sector that can have the greatest impact is investing in teachers. ”
— Vikas Pota, European regional honoree for the 2022 YPO Global Impact Award share
He encouraged supporters to help him. “I put my arms out and said, ‘I’m going to do this. Who wants to help?’ And about 80 organizations from around the world came to help – some small, some very large, some very famous, some not well-known,” Pota says. Some of those well-known organization include the World Bank, OECD, Brookings Institution, UNICEF, UNESCO, Pratham, BRAC and Teach for All.
Pota noticed that many organizations were focusing on improving school buildings, providing school meals and other important aspects of education but no one was focusing on teachers.
“The best investment we can make in the educational sector that can have the greatest impact is investing in teachers,” he says.
Innovations in education
T4 is an innovative byproduct of the pandemic, breaking down real and imagined barriers to allow a teacher in Laos to offer ideas to a teacher in Los Angeles, a teacher in Boston to help a teacher in Bangladesh.
“Education is typically hyperlocal,” Pota explains. “If you’re a teacher, you care about your classroom. You care about your school. Anything beyond that is a bit of a stretch because you’re so preoccupied with that task.”
The first online conference T4 hosted in May 2020 brought together 103,000 teachers to discuss teachers’ ‘new normal.’ Subsequent conferences brought together tens of thousands to well over 100,000 to discuss collaboration, leadership, technology and well-being – everything teachers needed to improve student outcomes. More than 20,000 teachers from 165 countries participated in the world’s largest survey about the use of technology by teachers in April 2021.
“The golden equation is that teachers trust teachers and schools trust schools,” Pota says. “In all our conferences, events, and opportunities that we present, we always put the teacher voice, the teacher experience, at the front.”
Creating a platform for teachers to help and learn from each other around the world was one way T4 innovated during the pandemic. Another was its emphasis on technology.
“The pandemic’s big story is the huge gains made by increased connectivity in the world,” Pota says. “When I look at my data in terms of those who are participating, they come from all these wonderful places where previously we wouldn’t reach.”
Prior to the pandemic, Pota’s life was spent travelling from one place to another. He says, “What happened during the pandemic is we’ve all been grounded. Now I see just immense opportunities using these digital technologies. What these technologies do is provide the opportunity to those unheard voices from around the world, to be heard, and they enrich the conversation.”
The golden equation is that teachers trust teachers and schools trust schools,” Pota says. “In all our conferences, events, all the opportunities that we present, we always put the teacher voice, the teacher experience, front. ”
— Vikas Pota share
He adds, “I’m much richer in terms of experience and perspective and depth than I ever have been simply because the pandemic and these technologies have brought everyone into these conversations, which I think is really powerful.”
Stronger schools, stronger communities
Pota has identified five strategies that make schools strong. “And if they’re stronger, then the entire community does better,” he adds.
The schools that have done better during the pandemic, he says:
- Created community collaboration.
- Empowered young people.
- Have innovation at their core, not just in technology, but as a philosophy.
- Know how to build resilience and overcome adversity.
- Focus on supporting healthy lives – mental health, general well-being, fitness and nutrition.
“You’ve not heard me say anything about grades or learning outcomes, but by focusing on these other things, we improve those learning outcomes,” Pota says.
T4 Education this year launched the USD250,000 World’s Best School Prizes to celebrate schools for the pivotal role they play in developing the next generation of learners and for their enormous contribution to society’s progress.
Finding your purpose
Pota found he could make the most impact by supporting teachers, but he says, everyone can make a positive impact in the world.
“Leadership, as defined in today’s age, needs to be about a wider purpose,” advises Pota. “Whether you are a business or a nonprofit, what is your central purpose? Put it front and center of what you do.”
He implores peers from around the world to think about how to make the world a better place. “Businesses can be a great accelerator in that sense, he says. “Of course, there’s a profit motive; it is important. Building a business is important. But what we actually need are better societies. Thinking about how can we contribute will help all of us.”
Pota credits his involvement with YPO for much of his success.
“I’m grateful to the YPO community, not just for this recognition, but for the trusted network that I’ve been able to build that has had an influence on the way I think about how I structure this business.”